“Swan Eye for the Human Guy”
I think every woman knows when her Prince comes. I knew my Prince had come when I met the man who elaborately bathed himself before dining with me every evening. Personal hygiene is always a plus and it’s certainly difficult to find a man these days who takes it under such careful consideration. I would watch as he would meticulously scrub and smooth his head. Then, catching me watching him prepare himself, he would hurry to choose just the right flowers. And after he had chosen and picked these flowers himself, only then, would he dare to approach me. And the first thing he did, before even saying hello, was to lay the flowers at my feet before me. And then he would wait, unmoving, bowing in reverence, until I finally said ‘thank you’, and he saw that his gift of wildflowers had made me happy. After that, he would gratefully eat the dinner I had set before him. Now, that’s a real Prince, if you ask me.
The only problem is, I am not describing a human Prince, but rather, I am describing Prince the swan.
Mute Swan | Cygnus olor photo
A month earlier when looking into possible reasons for Princesses’ death, I found out that the swans weren’t getting fed the right diet of food and that the plant material in the lake was not sufficient. My neighbor and I drilled a feeder to the dock, and Prince started to get daily feedings of cracked corn, layered wild-game bird pellet, all with some of his favorite wheat bread thrown into the mix. This was Prince’s favorite stew.
His feeding schedule became regular and when he figured that out, he started to watch my yard for me every day. And when it was feeding time, I would walk out into the yard, make my loud ‘Trrrrilll” call, and Prince would know it was feeding time.
I would come to the lakeside, but he wouldn’t approach me immediately, because, well, he wasn’t well-groomed enough. I would watch him dive his body under water, and fluff his wings, and smooth his head.
And then he would spread his wings and fluff them before he decided to search the pond. The first time he did this ritual, I was thinking to myself, “What on earth is he doing? It’s dinnertime and I thought he would be hungry”. So, I waited at the dock and watch him search the lake. Finally, he began swimming towards the reed patch nearest to me. But, instead of coming to me, he went into the reed patch looking for something. And then I saw all the reeds shaking and he was pulling at something. That didn’t work. He swam over to a patch of lilly pads with fresh blooming water flowers. He dove his head underwater and uprooted a few water flowers with his beak.
Then, he proudly swam to me and laid a batch of water flowers to the left of where I was standing. This was interesting so I took a seat on the dock. Prince disappeared into the reeds again. I saw him pulling ferociously at some cat-tails, and finally, having gotten ahold of them, he brought them to me and laid them at my right side. What was Prince up to? He repeated his gesture a few more times until I was surrounded by water flowers, water grasses, cat-tails, and reeds.
Only then did Prince happily eat the meal I had put in his feeder. After he finished eating, he gave me a quick head bow, and a very hearty tail-wag.
I sat there for a while and decided I would sing to him again to see what he would do this time. I started the Alleluja song again and he parked right in front of me, folded his wings gently onto his back, squeezed his eyes shut, and bowed his head very low. As before, I kept singing Alleluja over and over again to him. This time, he bent his head very close to me, and I leaned out over the water. I wanted to see how close he would get to me without becoming frightened.
He kept leaning closer, and beginning to bob his head up and down, and I bent my head down low. To my surprise, Prince floated right up to me and placed his forehead against mine. We were both startled, and Prince immediately opened his eyes and jumped 6 feet backwards and looked at me like, “What did I just do?” He was frightened, and he swam away.
I was very interested in what had happened so I went in the house and sent an email off to a swan expert in New Zealand. I described the behavior to her in detail, and I got a rather cheeky email back. She told me that the swan was attempting to initiate a mating dance with me. In other words, Prince thought I was his new girlfriend. Not only did he think I was his new girlfriend, all of that plant material he was putting around me was a make-shift nest that he was building for me. Prince was trying to make me his live-in girlfriend.
Uhh… No. That’s where I drew the line and I started talking to neighbors about acquiring a new mate for Prince. Of course, we had to consider that he was an old swan– 23 years to be exact, and even if we got him a mate, what if he died on his mate? Then there would be one more lone swan on he lake.
Then there was the fact that mute swans had been made illegal in Washington State. In 1991, they had been declared a ‘deleterious species’ under the law. The swans that were currently in the state were allowed to stay and were ‘grandfathered in’, but no new swans could be brought in to the state.
In addition to that, the law stated that we could not acquire or transport an existing mute swan WITHIN the state to our lake. So, even if we found an existing swan within Washington, we couldn’t legally acquire it.
And we also found out that if someone illegally acquired a mute swan, that carried with it a $10,000.00 fine and up to FIVE YEARS in prison. Can you image? Up to five years in prison and $10,000.00 for purchasing and transporting a mute swan. I think there are WORSE criminals who get less of a penalty in this state.
Our homeowner’s association decided to spearhead an effort to work with the Fish and Wildlife Department to make an exception to the rule. We were asking them to allow us to acquire a mute swan from within the state who had clipped wings and who was neutered so that it could not reproduce with our swan. We thought this was a fair thing to ask and Bill, the secretary of our HOA, took it upon himself to do all of the legwork around this initiative and also be the liaison between the homeowners and Fish and Wildlife. Bill had a great plan in place and started writing wonderfully articulate letters to the head of Fish and Wildlife asking for an exception.
We even located a couple of suitable female swans only 15 miles away that were being kept in a small pond inside an apartment complex. There were too many swans on this pond and not enough food. We arranged with the owners of the apartments to allow us to purchase and transport the swans, now all we needed was permission and we were strictly going to use the proper legal channels to get our swan.
Everything seemed like it was going to fall into place soon and Prince wouldn’t be lonely any longer.
That night, my son Noah asked me where Momma Swan was because she hadn’t come to knock at our door for a very long time. I knew this day would come and I didn’t quite know what to say. I started, “Well, Momma swan went to the clouds. She’s is in Heaven and she’s having a wonderful time there”. Noah replied, “Can she see us?” I answered, “Of course she can!” He looked up at the ceiling and said, “Hi Momma Swan, when are you coming back?” I said, “No, Momma Swan is in Heaven taking care of all of the babies who are there waiting to be born. It’s a very important job”. Noah looked at me knowingly and said, “Momma Swan has to take care of the babies. They can’t be all by their self because they’ll cry”. I reassured him, “She is taking good care of them, but maybe one day she’ll come and visit us too”. Noah looked reassured and fell asleep in my arms.
Little did I know a replacement for Princess was not going to be on the way very soon…
(Stay tuned for part 7)
– Sarah Polyakov